February 9, 2011

Console v. PC – The Video Game Smackdown!

Do you get your game on via PC or console? Which is better? Which has better performance? This has long been argued by many gamers from different backgrounds. This Tech Tip will attempt to address both sides and determine which one is the best of the best!


Today, gaming on a console brings many of us older gamers back to our roots. People (myself included) who grew up with the good ‘ol 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis and Atari 2600 will remember the simplicity and endless hours of fun with those gaming machines. Speaking of simplicity, this is a console’s greatest strength when it comes to its function. No fussy installations, hardware configurations and possible incompatibilities are involved. You just plug the cables into your television, plug the console’s power adapter in, insert the game and voila! Instant fun right in your living room.

Another blessing of console systems is the pricing. As of this writing, a Sony Playstation 3 runs for about $300, a Microsoft Xbox 360 systems and the Nintendo Wii start at $199 which is relatively cheaper than a gaming computer. In addition, the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP provide a way to take the console fun on the go. Console gaming offers instant action at a relatively affordable price.

PC Gaming

At the other corner, we have the classic pc computer platform which many would argue has just as good, if not better benefits as its console counterparts. First, a computer can do everything a console can do but can also be used to check email, download music, write papers, do research, conduct business, and edit photos and much more. Hence, its utility is plenty for a consumer. Second, with the rapid spread of technology, a computer can be continuously upgraded with new hardware to accommodate new technologies and new games that take advantage of next-generation graphical eye candy (ahem, DirectX 11). In, addition, PC gamers have the option to overclock their computers in order to squeeze extra power from their systems; some also overclock and refrain from buying newer and more expensive hardware until prices come down in their favor. Regardless, the PC platform offers a wide range of utility and flexibility for the gamer.

Why Console over PC

Let’s face it, if you’re hosting a party, it would certainly increase your nerd stock to set up 4-5 computers in your living room for a fun and casual gaming atmosphere. Let’s not forget that most average people either don’t know or aren’t comfortable using a computer keyboard and mouse to play a video game. In addition, you have the Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Wii systems that add a new level of interaction between the users and the gaming system. Thus, the console platform has something for everyone.

You also have the simplicity of a standard gaming platform. For example, the Microsoft Xbox 360 has the same setup and the same type of games as it did when it debuted in 2005. Therefore, there are no headaches and issues about compatibility on games and accessories.

Regarding games, the consoles excel at several genres which include (but not limited to) sports games, educational games and racing games. Even though Madden 2011 is available for PC, most sports fans would rather play it on an Xbox 360/PS3 because of the easier gamepad. Other games like Guitar Hero and Gran Turismo 5 would arguably be preferred on console systems. Furthermore, fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe are more socially preferred as everyone is usually huddled around a big-screen television.

Why PC over Console

What do the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii all have in common? If you crack open their cases, you’ll find a CPU, video card, sound card, hard drive, RAM, network adapter, optical drive and motherboard. Whoa? That’s the exact same thing one would find inside a computer. From a technical perspective, it is true that all consoles are computers since they share the same hardware. However, the biggest issue with consoles is their obsolescence. The hardware inside the Xbox 360 is from 2005 and the hardware inside the Sony PS3 is from 2007. Graphically, their performance is subpar relative to a current-generation gaming PC with 2010-11 hardware. For example, Activision’s newly-released game, Call of Duty Black Ops was a cross-platform release. In other words, it came out for PC, Xbox 360, Wii, PS3 and Nintendo DS all together. However, if you examine the PC hardware requirements for the game, you’ll notice it requires Direct X 9. This graphics platform was released in 2002-2003; Meaning that the game was graphically “dumbed down” so the console platforms could support it. Also, PC gamers have the flexibility of graphically tweaking the game settings for optimal visual performance. For example, if you look closely at a television running Halo 3, you’ll see lots of “jaggies” or lines/edges with jagged textures which is a painful eyesore among PC gamers.

Console gamers also mock that PC gamers are uber-nerdy when they all get together and have LAN parties. That is, several PC gamers bring over their computers and set up a local area network (LAN) at someone’s home and play video games. So what do you call 8 people split between 2 connected Xbox 360s and 2 big-screen TVs playing Halo 3? It’s really the same thing except PC gamers each have their own monitors and don’t have to squint at a corner of the TV.

So Which is Better?

Ultimately, it really comes down to preference. Neither PC nor console is superior but rather the choice comes down to what the gamer prefers. Are you the type of person who just wants to jump in, not worry about settings and wants to just enjoy the action? Or do you like playing in the living room in front of a big-screen TV with a simple gamepad?

Are you the type of person who enjoys long-hours of the MMORPG genre such as World of Warcraft? Do you fancy opening up your computer case and enjoy tinkering with BIOS settings, replacing parts and think FPS (first-person shooter) games are meant to be played via keyboard and mouse?

Regardless of your preference, just keep in mind several factors. First, know how much you want (and can afford) to spend before making a significant financial investment. Second, make sure the gaming platform you choose is aligned with your gaming interests and preference. Third, since technology moves so rapidly, keep the future in mind and consider changes/trends that might affect your future gaming purchases.

Remember, if you’re having trouble getting past a certain level, throw it into God mode and game on!

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Tablets…Theeeeeey’re Back!

Tablet devices are bursting back onto the scene and stand to be on the most-wanted gadget list for many geeks in the near future. Rallied by the success of Apple’s iPad, manufacturers are charging back into the tablet form factor, offering both familiar and innovative ways for us to interact with our machines. In this TechTip, we’re talkin’ tablets!

What Makes a Tablet?

A tablet, more properly known as a tablet personal computer, is a medium-sized portable personal computer where a pen or touchscreen is used as the primary interface, as opposed to a keyboard and mouse. Some tablet PCs have a hardware keyboard attached while others feature touch-based interfaces and accomplish the task of character input with on-screen keyboard emulation or hand-writing recognition. Tablets are intended to be portable and mobile so they can be used in places where notebook and desktop PCs are impractical. To be portable, tablets are usually built with a wireless connection to provide local network access or an Internet connection. To stay portable, tablets require an internal battery and to make the most of their power source, are made with components that consume very little power compared to their bigger, more powerful brothers. Since power consumption is scaled back to maximize battery life, tablets often do not provide as much functionality as a notebook or desktop, but with their larger screen sizes, tablet PCs accomplish many tasks that handheld PCs cannot.

Back? What do you mean, “back?”

Tablets were first intended to be used to replace notepads or clipboards, so hand-writing recognition or sketching capability were key features. A few early ancestors of today’s tablets were introduced in the 1980s that offered hand-writing recognition, but things didn’t really take off until the early 1990s, when a company called the GO corporation announced PenPoint OS, the first operating system designed specifically for pen computers. Not to be outdone, Microsoft and Apple began to develop pen computing solutions of their own. This in turn, brought about IBM’s first ThinkPad, the 700T. A few other companies took their crack at tablets, but these products failed to sell well because of technological limitations of the time, causing the market to fade into nothing by 1995. Microsoft attempted to resurrect the tablet by creating their own Tablet PC specification, a pen computer prototype that would run a modified version of Windows XP, called the Tablet PC Edition. This brought pen computing back to life, but it only kept it on the fringe. Since it was a modified version of a desktop operating system, it wasn’t particularly well-suited to pen or touch interfaces.

The Perfect Tech-Storm

Tablets of today are almost a different kind of device entirely, and while they share similarities with their predecessors, they’ve evolved from a few different market conditions. The first condition, and I think the most important one, was the evolution of cheap cellphones into smartphones that became tiny computers all by themselves, complete with their own mobile operating systems. They became the hot new market in the tech industry. From there, smartphones began to integrate finger-based interfaces for touchscreens as the cost per inch of these screens, as well as the cost and size of flash memory,  was gradually reduced.  But even with all these pieces, nobody was in a hurry to pour money into a market that was littered with failures.

We have our notebook computers,  but they are still too cumbersome to use all the time, and we have our smartphones, but the screens are too small to use for extended periods of time. This left room for improvement, something that’s perfect for a short flight or keeping on the couch next to you for when you need to know where you’ve seen that character actor before. Enter the cheap netbook!  A netbook is a smaller notebook, usually with a 10-inch screen, a keyboard & touchpad, and a WiFi connection. They make use of low-power CPUs that are sufficient for most Internet-related activities. Most every PC manufacturer took notice that these little machines were flying out of their inventory in the past couple years. Unfortunately, most netbooks were made to run on light versions of Windows that provided a poor experience while suffering from poor performance with Adobe Flash.

The Modern Tablet

Today’s tablets are built with capacitive touchscreens and 3G of WiFi connections, but they also feature operating systems that were designed for mobile hardware, something most of their predecessors lacked. It’s no secret that the best in class tablet at the moment is the Apple iPad as many manufacturers have begun to copy its design, but it’s still not quite perfect. It was released back in April of 2010 and it’s beginning to show its age as a first generation device, plus, the rest of the industry is trying to catch up. But never fear, rumors are already swirling about what new features and improvements will be found in the “iPad 2”.

Everybody back in the water!

With the iPad’s success, due to its refined design and user experience, in what was a virtually uncontested market, it’s a race for everyone else to try and carve their piece of the pie. The iPad’s high price point along with its hardware and software restrictions leave more than enough room for innovation and competition. At CES 2011, it was obvious that manufacturers are aiming to do just that. This year’s mobile tablet offerings are going to include faster dual-core ARM processors, 3G or even 4G network connections with data plans, and will be thin and light while sporting high resolution screens. Google’s next Android OS firmware update, codenamed Honeycomb and expected to be released in Februrary, is going to be optimized for tablets, which will give software developers and manufacturers a great opportunity to get back into the tablet game. Last year, the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) purchased Palm, Inc., the makers of the Palm Pilot, after Palm announced they were developing a new mobile operating system called webOS. If that doesn’t make it clear that tablets are the new trend, Microsoft announced at CES 2011 that Windows 8 will run on ARM CPUs. Tablets are definitely on the way back, and this time, with the full force of the industry behind them!

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